IF the true/false assumption behind 0s and 1s were false, THEN what?: beyond binary

Computers work by applying self-referencing formulas, definitions and meanings (like colors, shapes, letters) to a digital stream of 0s and 1s. Phrases like IF-THEN generate versitile renderings of human thought organized around a single key concept:

1 = true and 0 = false.

But what of the truth of 1 and "O"?

You have undoubtedly, at some point, needed to enter a complex password with an oval shaped character embedded in it. You stop short, unclear whether the shape intended is a zero or capital "oowh."

A trivial bit of a pain, some may say, for software customers and technicians. I say, useful metaphor.

1 = true, and an oval shape = false OR perhaps the letter "oowh" pointing to possible subjects like Octopus, Olive or Omnibus.

Binary-ness need not be uncomplicated by Truth for it to still function reliably in exacting systems (like computers) designed to read it in a strict fashion. Thus even underneath a binary can lurk a "fractal," layered, complex picture, and yet the balance of nature need not be upset in any way by it.

The tiny, brilliant book Flatland: A romance in many dimensions (1884) does a bang-up job at a similar logic.

Some modern physicists are beginning to suggest space is bit-like. One way to do that is to establish Planck length uncertainty, as a sort of irreducible state of space that suggests anything larger than its fuzziness boundary be designated a "bit" of space. The question remains, Why must we describe space as having discrete (true or false) bit-ness at all? The definition is arbitrarily limited, and more importantly, leaves no room for cosmic slight-of-hand.

Did you notice the two slights-of-hand in the title of this piece? One is a reference to Godel's Incompleteness Theorem. Rendering the subject of the IF statement (true/false logic) false makes the THEN part meaningless. Logical systems cannot always be both consistent and complete. The other slight-of-hand was the use of a conditional verb form. This alludes to a real state of some subjects of IF-THEN statements as existing in a state of possibility rather than a rationally contrained state of true or false.

Binary-ness is a useful tool, but beyond it is much to celebrate if we open to the possibility.


Copyright Michelle Kathryn McGee 2013-2014. All rights reserved. Last updated Mar 27, 2014.